Reds right-hander Homer Bailey claimed the spotlight Friday night when he threw the 15th no-hitter in Reds history, the first since Tom Browning's perfect game on Sept. 16, 1988. Now comes the real challenge for Bailey.
Bailey and Matt Cain of San Francisco will become only the 15th pitchers to advance to the postseason out of the 38 who have thrown no-hitters since the introduction of the Wild Card in 1995. Only four of the previous 13 have been with teams that won a World Series championship the year they pitched the no-hitter: Dwight Gooden with the Yankees in 1996, Kevin Brown with the Marlins in 1997, David Wells with the Yankees in 1998 and Clay Buchholz with Boston in 2007.
Cone, however, is the only one with a positive experience in the World Series that year. He worked seven shutout innings to win Game 2 of the Yankees' four-game sweep of Atlanta in 1999. Buchholz was a September callup for the 2007 Red Sox and didn't appear in the postseason. Gooden, 11-7 with a 5.01 ERA during the 1996 season, was not called on in that World Series. Brown did pitch, but wound up with two of the three Marlins losses in their seven-game Series win over Cleveland.
Trout and Rosario
The Halos' season is in jeopardy. They are in Seattle for their final three regular-season games starting Monday, and they are just one loss (or an Oakland win) away from postseason elimination. Mike Trout, however, has done more than anyone could have expected to help spark the Angels.
The 21-year-old Trout wasn't even called up from Triple-A Salt Lake until April 28, but he ranks third in the AL with a .321 average, and that's just the start. Trout joined Nomar Garciaparra in 1997 as the only rookie leadoff hitters to have 30-homer seasons since 1974. He became the youngest player in history to have a 30-30 season, and goes into the final three games needing two stolen bases to join Eric Davis (1987) and Barry Bonds (1990) as the only players in history to go 30-50. And he has become the first player in history to have 30 home runs, 125 runs scored and 45 stolen bases in a season.
The fact the Angels made a surge once Trout arrived brought attention to Trout. Wilin Rosario, with the Colorado Rockies, didn't have that benefit. The Rockies are suffering through their worst season in history, and while Trout is on plenty of highlight reels for both his offense and defense, Rosario has struggled at times behind the plate. Rosario hasn't struggled with this bat, though.
Having hit .321 since Aug. 1, Rosario has raised his batting average to .274. He leads NL rookies with a Rockies rookie-record 27 home runs, and 79 RBI despite playing in just 114 of the Rockies' first 159 games. His ratio of a home run every 14.07 at-bats is the fifth best for a rookie who appeared in at least 100 games, trailing Rudy York (10.71, Detroit, 1937), Mark McGwire (11.37, Oakland, 1987), Bob Hamelin (13.00, Kansas City, 1994) and Ryan Braun (13.26, Milwaukee, 2007).
The Orioles won't go away, and the Yankees are feeling the pressure. With a 4-3 win over Boston on Saturday combined with the Yankees' 3-2 loss to Toronto, Baltimore moved into a tie with the Yankees for the AL East lead and the top AL Wild Card spot.
There, however, is a catch. Whichever wins the AL East could find themselves in a difficult position for the postseason. The Orioles complete the regular season with a three-game trip to Tampa Bay, while the Yankees host Boston. If Baltimore and New York are tied at the end of 162 games, under the new Wild Card system adopted this year, they will have a playoff game on Thursday.
In previous years, the team with the better record in head-to-head competition would have advanced as the division champion and the other would have been the Wild Card. That, however, changed this year with the addition of the second Wild Card. There is a special one-game showdown between the two Wild Card teams with the winner of that game advancing to the Division Series. That's designed to make it more difficult for the Wild Card team. In this case, the AL East champion could suffer, too.
Consider that if Texas finishes with the best record in the AL, the team that wins the AL East will open the postseason on Saturday against the Detroit Tigers, two days after a prospective AL East playoff, which would mean the division champion wouldn't have time to adjust its pitching staff. The Wild Card game, meanwhile, would be on Friday, but there would then be a day off on Saturday before the winner plays Texas in the best-of-five Division Series.
Chicago spent 117 days in first place this season, including 64 in a row from July 24 until last Tuesday. In losing 10 of their past 12 games, they have slipped three games back of Detroit in the AL Central, and they are one loss at Cleveland or one Tigers win over the Royals away from official elimination.
During the past two weeks, Alex Rios (.378) and Alejandro De Aza (.364) are the only players with batting averages above .250. Adam Dunn has stumbled to a .116 average with 20 strikeouts in the past 12 games. A.J. Pierzynski has hit .222 with 10 strikeouts. Alexei Ramirez may lead AL shortstops with 71 RBIs, but he hit .220 in the 12 games, while Gordon Beckham has hit .161.
Meanwhile, the pitching has become such a concern that rookie Jose Quintana was called on in Sunday's 6-2 loss to Tampa Bay in place of a struggling Francisco Liriano, while Hector Santiago will make his fourth big league start in Monday's win-or-else game at Cleveland. Gavin Floyd has the only win by a starter in the past 12 games, and his 4.09 ERA is the lowest among any White Sox starter in the stretch.
The Rays are the blue collar team, battling with the blue bloods. In three of the past four years, they were able to advance to the postseason at the expense of Boston (twice) and the Yankees (once). They have made a strong season-ending push for the fourth time in five years, winning 10 of their past 11 games. Tampa Bay, however, has been officially eliminated from the AL East race, and it was left one loss (or one Oakland win) away from Wild Card elimination on Sunday. This, despite David Price becoming the franchise's first 20-game winner while finishing the regular season with a Major League-best 2.56 ERA.
The Rays may not be able to overcome a 1-7. During that eight-game stretch, Tampa Bay went 1-2 against the Yankees and lost all three to Baltimore.
There are some telling stats. Carlos Pena, who returned as a free agent for what is a hefty salary for the Rays of $7.25 million, is last among AL qualifiers in both overall batting average (.199) and average with runners in scoring position (.153). His struggles led manager Joe Maddon to try 10 different players in the cleanup spot, three of whom were designated for assignment. And the Rays are in line to become the first team since the 1945 Washington Senators to lead the league in ERA and rank last in fielding.
This was supposed to be the Marlins' year. They moved into their new stadium. They brought in high-profile manager Ozzie Guillen. And they lured a free agent class that included shortstop Jose Reyes (6 years, $106 million), left-hander Mark Buehrle (4 years, $58 million) and closer Heath Bell (3 years, $27 million), boosting their payroll to a club-record $101.6 million -- $40 million more than the previous biggest payroll in franchise history.
What was the result? A last-place finish and the seventh season with more than 90 losses in the franchise's 20-year history, one loss away from the worst record in franchise history.
The Marlins headed into the final three-game series of the season having lost nine of their past 10 games. They suffered three eight-win months, April, June and September.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.